Tourism Group Urges Ottawa To Boost Funding

October 4, 2012/ Times Colonist/ Andrew A. Duffy/ - Canada has a golden opportunity to increase tourism spending and draw more visitors, but there are key problems holding the country back, according to the head of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.

TIAC chief executive David Goldstein said improving airline access to Canada and ramping up the national marketing effort has to be top of mind.

"They are significant barriers," said Goldstein, who was on the West Coast to take part in the Western Canadian Hotel and Resort Investment Conference in Vancouver.

"The international travel base is growing and will continue to grow exponentially," he said with a nod to expanding middle classes in emerging markets like China, Brazil, India and Russia. "There's a huge opportunity. We are blessed with the basics, now it's a matter of focusing the minds of public policy makers in Ottawa."

He said time is of the essence as there is still some "gas in the tank" from the Olympics in 2010 and the Canadian brand remains strong.

"The decisions that take place in the next 12 to 14 months could shape travel patterns to Canada for the next 12 to 14 years," he said borrowing a line from Tourism Vancouver CEO Rick Antonson. "Whether it's air access issues, landing fees or the marketing issue, if we don't get our ducks lined up in the very near future we are shaping travel around us."

Goldstein said the government appears to realize there is a problem, and that TIAC has made up some ground on the marketing issue, a sore spot for tourism stakeholders.

The federal government raised the ire of the industry when it announced earlier this year the Canadian Tourism Commission, Canada's tourism marketing agency, was losing 20 per cent of its funding and would see only a $58-million budget next year. That meant the CTC would have to pull out of advertising in the U.S., Canada's largest international tourism market, and focus efforts on strategic markets.

"We are on a determined campaign to reverse that," said Goldstein.

Goldstein said TIAC is pushing a plan that would see a portion of the GST revenue collected from foreign visitors redirected to the CTC. Canada is the only country in the G-8 that does not have a partial or full rebate for visitors who have paid a value-added tax.

"There is an estimated $500 million in GST revenue government takes from foreign visitors, we are saying take 25 to 30 per cent and redirect it to a properly funded CTC and you'll actually drive more revenue," he said.

An improved budget would allow Canada to be more competitive on the world marketing stage where it has lost ground.

Canada's $72-million marketing budget in 2011 was dwarfed by the $211 million spent by Ireland, $153 million spent by Mexico and $147 million sent by Australia.

And in the last 10 years, Canada has seen the number of international tourist arrivals drop from 20 million in 2002 to 16 million in 2011.